More than 1,100 people have been intercepted crossing into Canada from the U.S. this year
Over 1,100 people were intercepted by Canada’s federal policing body while crossing the Canada-US border illegally in the first two months of this year, according to the latest numbers from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Since the start of the Donald Trump presidency, asylum seekers have been flooding into Canada between ports of entry with increasing frequency, often braving hours-long walks in severe weather conditions.
The border jumpers, experts say, are taking advantage of a loophole in an agreement between Canada and the U.S., which sees most asylum seekers turned away at border checkpoints because Canada considers the U.S. to be a safe country for refugees.
But once a claimant is on Canadian soil, regardless of how they made it in, they are entitled to have their case heard.
The number was highest in Quebec, with 677 interceptions in total — 245 in January and 432 in February. British Columbia followed, with a total of 291 interceptions — 207 in January and 84 in February.
In Manitoba, where asylum seekers have been crossing from North Dakota into the tiny town of Emerson, the number jumped from 19 interceptions in January to 142 in February to total 161.
Another 29 followed railroad tracks and roads to walk from the US to Manitoba just this past weekend — the largest group to make the trek together so far this year, according to the Canadian Press.
Saskatchewan only saw five illegal border crossings in January, while Ontario, New Brunswick and Alberta had none.
The 1,134 interceptions by the RCMP represent a significant chunk of the 5,520 asylum claims processed by the Canada Border Services Agency and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada over the first two months.
The new numbers come amid a surge in Mexicans seeking asylum in Canada, just a few months after Canada lifted a visa requirement to enter the country. During the first two months of the year, 156 Mexican nationals claimed refugee status in Canada, up from just 15 claims during the same time period in 2016.
The numbers also come as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights holds an emergency hearing at the request of advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Harvard and Refugee Clinical Program, to review the implications of Donald Trump’s “immoral and unconstitutional Muslim ban” for asylum seekers, among other policies from the new administration.
Many experts have called on the Canadian government to suspend the Safe Third Country, which they say pushes asylum seekers underground. They are hoping the commission, which is part of the Organization of American States, will make the same recommendation.
Ottawa, however, has been firm that it has no intention of cancelling the agreement, arguing that Trump’s executive orders on immigration have no impact on the domestic asylum system, which is overseen by the judicial branch.
Cover: Christinne Muschi/Reuters